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by JudeH 

Posted: 10 April 2008
Word Count: 1050
Summary: Slightly revised since I posted it in the chick lit forum - this work in progress is the first chapter of my next novel. Working on characterisation - main concern: is Sophie likeable? Thanks!

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Chapter 1
Sophie relaxed against the fridge and downed her cocktail. Ah! The happy buzz of Apple Martini. Works every time – and not just on her it would seem. A crowd of merry drinkers were clinking glasses over her kitchen table.
Slinging an arm around her shoulder, Tom pulled her into the fray. ‘And here’s to our hostess with the mostest – the lovely Soph.’ He planted a boozy kiss on her cheek that would have been promising if he wasn’t so damn far out of her league.
‘You’ve done it again, girl! What a night!’
Sophie grinned and held up her glass as Tom sloshed the dregs with another slug of Martini – at least her seventh this evening. Oh well! Her latest fling, Matt, was working out to be a right square – she had to entertain herself somehow!
Glancing round the circle of red-faced drunks, Sophie smiled at the few she didn’t recognise. Who was that bloke helping himself to her vodka? Sod it, the more the merrier! As her mum said, Sophie was one of life’s givers: if her galley kitchen was filled with drunken strangers, it was, she was happy to admit, her own doing. ‘All back to mine!’ was Sophie’s motto these days – ever since she’d crashed back into town and started mixing cocktails at Tom’s Bar six weeks ago. Kick-out time on Friday nights, found her sweeping up the regulars and prizing away their half drunk Cosmopolitans before leading the march back ‘Cheshamsted’s hottest night spot’ – otherwise known as her bed-sit.
Tom, now perched on the Formica sideboard, winked at her over his blonde du jour and stubbed out a Marlboro in her pot plant. The Yucca had been suffering since the house move anyway.
Sophie steadied herself by the fridge again. She loved his part of the evening – the warm fuzz after a few cocktails, before the neighbours started banging on the wall. Filled with people, laughter and drunken banter; her flat felt warm at last –cosy even. Around her, strangers were becoming mates. Relationships – OK, one-night stands in Tom’s case – were starting. It was in these hazy moments before she passed out on the sofa that Sophie almost felt like hanging around, settling down.
A few more parties like this and she might even meet someone special – someone who could keep up with her. She glanced at her reflection in the glass oven door. In this light her orange hair looked strawberry blonde and the zits on her pizza-chin, practically invisible. Straightening up her 5ft 10inch frame, she launched back into the crowd.
Good thing her party wasn’t as stuffy the one her sister was hosting tonight – so boring, with her chilled Pinot-Pricey and couples-only table plan. Pah! She hoped Lucy got Salmonella.
No, this was much better. Her party had a sizzle of possibility about it – a real ‘je ne sais quoi.’ And not knowing everyone had its benefits – she could be anyone she wanted. Even if she hadn’t decided what that was yet.
‘Watch out, love!’ A lumberjack shoulder barged her out of the way, wrenching open the fridge. ‘Where’s all the beer?’ he asked, holding up a bottle of Tanqueray 10 that had cost a week’s worth of tips. ‘These girlie cocktails are doing my head in.’
‘Easy,’ she said, reaching for the heavy glass bottle and flashing him a wet-lipped smile she normally reserved for punters. ‘I’m sure I can mix you something more manly.’ Sophie swapped the Tanqueray for a bottle of Sambucca – always a favourite with the testosterone army – and grabbed a shooter glass from the side. If there was one her single years had taught her – men loved a challenge.
‘Try this,’ she said, floating a fluorescent layer of Green Chartreuse onto the thick black liquid before lighting the cocktail with her Zippo. ‘Then, if you’re still standing, I’m sure we can dig out a Stella from somewhere.’
Squaring his shoulders, the lumberjack raised an eyebrow before taking the flaming glass between finger and thumb and throwing it back in one. A cheer rippled around the kitchen.
Sophie watched his Adam’s apple bob and his rough face contort with what she knew was a Sambucca burn.
‘Whoa there!’ he winced, caving into a kitchen chair. ‘What the fuck d’ you call that?’
Sophie laughed. One down, ten to go. A crowd of drinkers were gathering round her, brandishing empty shot glasses. Her flaming cocktails were becoming famous round here and she had to admit the attention was nice.
Oh no! But just as she was handing out another round, somewhere far away, there was a bang on the door. Not the police complaining again!
‘Shhh,’ she gestured over the chants of ‘down it, down it!’ but her visitors weren’t having any of it. Was it too much to hope this was a friendly visitor? Maybe Matt had decided to come after all! Her heart flipped as she galloped to the door, sneaking a look through peep hole before she opened it.
Gutted. A uniformed policeman squinted back at her. She inched back the door with a sigh.
‘Can I speak to Sophie Knott, please?’ the policeman asked, stepping over a pile of junk mail.
Wishing her visitors would shut the hell up for a moment, Sophie swallowed her disappointment and flashed the policeman her trademark smile. ‘Speaking.’
‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,’ he continued, with a stiffness that told her this was wasn’t a routine call, ‘about your family.’
‘What’s happened?’ Please let Lucy be all right. Her sister had been a bit of a bitch since Sophie had got back but she’d be lost without her – no matter what she said last night.
‘Perhaps you’d better to sit down.’
She wheeled around as quickly as seven Martini’s would allow. An unrecognisable couple were writhing on the sofa in the lounge – not that she’d have made it that far. Her knees crumpled onto the grubby lino.
‘St George’s called. The hospital,’ he added, noting her blank expression.
The room span in an apple-scented blur. Oh God! Trying not to think about the Salmonella, a wave of guilt made her feel sick.
‘Your father passed away this morning.’

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Comments by other Members

BeckyC at 14:47 on 10 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Jude,

I'm very behind on my critting, but thought I'd start at the top, so that at least with you I had some chance of saying something that no one else had before ;-)

I really liked the style of this - it's very fresh and easy, and I didn't find it hard to keep focused. I do think Sophie is likeable; at this stage we don't know a lot about her, but the little hints about her being "one of life's givers" and the humorous asides about Tom and her own appearance bring her to life. I think you've managed to create a first-person feel through a third-person narrative, which is no mean feat and something I've often struggled with in the past. I also think the false sense of security that you create when the police turn up (through Sophie thinking they've just come to complain about the noise) is very effective.

If my attention wandered anywhere, it was during the shot-drinking scene just before the police turn up. I think maybe it’s because I didn’t have a clear picture of the lumberjack in my head, or a clear idea of who he was – a stranger, an acquaintance, fanciable to Sophie or not? – etc. I think you could go one of two ways with this section, either compress it or flesh it out. All in all though I think it’s a great start.

P.S. noticed a typo: "Perhaps you'd better sit down" - take out the "to".

RT104 at 14:15 on 11 April 2008  Report this post
Dear Jude,

I loved this – great atmosphere, and an excellent hook for the end of the first chapter. (What a brilliant title, too! Are all the chapters going to have titles, or was this purely for our benefit when you were posting it?).

I liked the whirling gaiety of it, obviously making the contrast to the shock of the news at the en, which you accomplish very nicely. I had a real sense of her drunkenness, too, and everything being a bit ‘out of focus’ – without that being overdone, at all. Again, very nicely achieved, I thought.

I’ve got some small textual things (a lot of it just proof-reading, if that’s something you want)…

I liked the opening – the very plain first sentence and then the contrasting grabbiness of ‘Ah! The happy buzz of Apple Martini’. But not sure about ‘Works every time’ – for me, that early on, I didn’t want the tense confusing – it’s nice to feel the tense and person and whatnot clearly established before you begin to play around with them, I think. I’d have stuck to ‘worked’, therefore.

Typo: ‘Kick-out time on Friday nights,’ – lose the comma after ‘nights’.

‘…back Cheshampsted’s hottest night spot’ – typo - you need a ‘to’ in there.

I loved Tom stubbing out a Marlborough in her pot plant’, But then I think (for me) it is actually weakened slightly when you reiterate the point again in the next line (‘The yucca had been suffering…’). Less is more, I feel – we got it the first time. But it’s a very personal view…

Typo – ‘she loved his part of the evening…’ – should be ‘this part…’

‘Filled with people, laughter and drunken banter; her flat felt warm at last –cosy even.’ Punctuation maybe a bit off? I’d make the first semi-colon into a comma, and you need a space between the ‘-’ and ‘cosy’.

I very much liked the line, ‘Around her, strangers were becoming mates’.

‘Hanging around, settling down’. This didn’t quite work for me. First, ‘hanign around’ sounded like hanging about on the edges of social groups… but I think you meant staying for a while? Wouldn’t ‘sticking around’ be better – more of a sense of staying and less of a sense of wasting time/dawdling. And then ‘settling down’. Again, this jarred a bit for me – it felt like a non-sequitur. You’ve just been describing people getting off with one another other – specifically Tom and his one-night stands. How did she get from there to ‘settling down’ (which sounded more like Lucy and her couples-only dinner parties!). I can see that the coupling off around her might make her feel like a fling – but ‘settling down’?? Why not something jokier about some minimal establishment of roots – e.g. ‘sticking around, maybe unpacking her books/getting her own bathmat’ - or whatever?

For me, the fact she was 5’10” was a bit too obvious an info dump. The red hair and spots were OK – but her exact measurements were a fact too far at this early stage, for me. Just didn’t slide in quite naturally enough, for my liking. Probably being very picky!

I liked the ‘sizzle of possibility’. On the other hand, the line about her being able to be ‘anyone she wanted’ to be did slightly sound my cliché alert. It’s a good idea, and fits the bill here, but I feel too many other people have used it before for it to have the impact you want for it.

Typo – ‘If there was one her single years…’ – ‘thing’ omitted. (But I did love that line - made me smile!)

The bobbing Adam’s apple also hit my cliché button, I’m afraid. I’ve just read it too many times before – however appropriate for your context.

‘He winced’. Lots of people have a real thing against non-speech related verbs being used as speech tags. Personally I don’t have a problem with it (I’m always saying ‘smiled Susan’, etc…), but it’s supposed to be ‘against the rules’, if you believe in these things!!

Small query about mixed messages. If Matt is turning out to be so square and boring, why does her heart flip when it might be him at the door? (And ditto her disappointment when it’s not him.)

Typo - 'Seven Martini's' - lose the apostrophe.

I loved how she assumes the bad news is Lucy - and the little touch of guilt about having wished Salmonella on her – very nice! It means that you keep us guessing very neatly with all these side alleys – the complaints about noise, then it being Lucy…. And I loved the apple-scented blur, too – tying the end in to the opening with the apple martinis, giving the piece a feeling of unity/roundness.

It flowed very nicely – the dialogue is very snappy, the voice easy on the ear. There were no places where I felt it flagged - not even all the drinking – though personally I could have done without (perhaps) QUITE so many names of drinks and cocktails – teeny bit overloaded, overall, in that respect? Especially combined with other brand names like the Zippo and the Marlboroughs and whatnot. I’d maybe weed out just a few of those proper nouns, so it feels less like a catalogue or bar menu. But that’s very much personal taste!

You ask, Is Sophie likeable, and I’d say yes, definitely. There’s a warmth there, for sure. I don’t tend to read a lot of this style of chick lit (urban lifestyles of single women in their twenties) because I’m an old, mumsy type and it’s not my scene – but even in spite of that, you had me very much drawn in.

Sorry if none of this is any help – it’s all highly subjective, and probably cr*p.

Rosy x

JudeH at 11:02 on 13 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Rosy and Becky

Thanks so much for all this good advice!!! Its great to have real, useable, tangible pointers that I can apply to my first chapter. And I'm loving your honesty! Thanks for that too. Will tweak accordingly.


Jude xx

Brady at 13:29 on 13 April 2008  Report this post
I really liked this - it drew me in, the scene was set really well, I liked the MC and you've managed to avoid any obvious cliches in what could have been a cliche-riddled party scene. I haven't read the adam's apple thing much elsewhere I didn't have any problem with the lumberjack person looking for beer and thought the whole drinking scene was very well described. Dialogue is great too.

Just a few things I wondered about-

stepping over a pile of junk mail.

I get that the junk mail indicates that she's quite messy but wouldn't it have already been kicked out of the way by her guests? oh maybe not, I dunno, now that I try to think of my student days. Am I just showing my age?

Agree with Rosy about the potted plant, and about mixed messages. It did stick out a bit when I read that she hoped it was the latest bf after she had seemingly decided that he wasn't for her at the beginning of the chapter.

Sorry this isn't very detailed but feeling slightly worse for wear today - more feeling my age, than showing it

I liked Sophie and don't think you should be concerned about anyone not liking her.

susieangela at 19:43 on 15 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Jude,
Rosy's done such a thorough critique I don't have much to add. I thought it was a well set up scene and a shocking and effective ending 'hook'. I also really like the title.
Would just say that I think you could take away quite a few of the exclamation marks - (I read somewhere recently that you should use as few of them as possible and only when they're really needed). The words you write carry their own meaning and the exclamations aren't needed, IMO. Only one other tiny spelling: 'prizing' should be 'prising'.

saturday at 19:49 on 16 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Jude,

Just a quickie. This bounced along really well, you very quickly establish the cheery party-girl atmosphere undercut with sadness. I see no reason why Sophie shouldn't develop into the sort of character one can care about, although I was slightly worried that she might be too desperate without any good reason.

You have a clear, strong hook at the end with the bad news. I was slightly puzzled by a couple of aspects though: a policeman comes bearing bad news and mentions her family. This fits, one immediately assumes some kind of terrible accident. However he then mentions the hospital and says her father passed away that morning - this seems a bit tame (or it could just be that I'm blood-thirsty!). This made me question the credibility of a policeman coming round.

Despite these questions, I thought it was a strong beginning.

Welcome to WF by the way.

MarlaD at 14:26 on 17 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Jude..I really liked this too, though have to agree with Susie on the father dying timescale bit..could he have died more recently? Or are they estranged? She's a great character x

Katerina at 09:17 on 22 April 2008  Report this post

In answer to your question, yes, Sophie is likeable.

Not much more to add as the others have said what I would have, I also agree about the exclamation marks - you should use them very sparingly.

When the policeman turns up and says he has some bad news, I didn't like the added bit 'about your family'. This doesn't sound right and seemed out of place. I don't feel he would have said that. He would have said that he was sorry, but he had bad news, and then told her that her father had died.

I enjoyed this and am looking forward to the next chapter.


acwhitehouse at 19:38 on 05 May 2008  Report this post
Hi Jude, just catching up on my critting. As for your direct question at the start of the piece, I have to say that (for me) Sophie isn't very likeable, I'm afraid. I've lived with noisy neighbours far too long, and in too many different houses, to have ANY sympathy WHATSOEVER for someone who regularly cranks the noise levels up to the point where the neighbours are banging on her walls - sorry! I would still read your book, if it were hinted in the blurb that Sophie might grow up at some point!

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